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entelechy - fifty by safety

Alex Ferguson is in charge of his 1000th league game tonight. Wenger, when he is not busy preparing his squad to repeat what they last did in Eindhoven, has rather amusingly claimed to be celebrating this momentous anniversary “all week” (langue planted firmly in joue). It has lead many to compare the two modern masterminds of English foootball. Overwhelmingly Fergie’s former and current charges have highlighted the man’s exceptional leadership and force of will. These are manly virtues – most women will tell you that most men they know think they have these qualities as well. (Give them a gin and tonic and they’ll tell you just how “up themselves” most blokes are, which amounts to the same thing). The difference is, Ferguson’s 18 years have been marked by unflinching commitment and hard graft in support of that strong personality. If you are sitting somewhere now wondering why the world hasn’t recognised your exceptional talent, sparkling personality and man-management skills; why your oppo’s may not follow you out of a trench if you stood up and shouted “right lads, over the top”, forgive me, but it’s probably because you haven’t put in the kind of effort our black-hearted red nosed nemesis has.

Wenger is cast against this as the opposite archetype; cerebral, persuasive and cunning. I’ve heard him called “French” as well. I take this to mean he achieves his ends by somewhat less obvious means. This is supported by people’s impression of the two pre-eminent teams in the Premiership for the last 5 years. Arsenal are recipients of one of the most consistent chants on Englands terraces – the charge that we are “always cheating” (even Rotherham sang it to us in a Carling Cup game – how funny is that?). It seems that the ease with which we are capable of embarrassing opponents has assisted in promulgating the idea that there is some use of smoke and mirrors; that one’s card is actually up the other fellows sleeve. United, by contrast, bulldozer teams. They are a cast of ugly and aggressive beasts who just will not believe they can be beaten and will eventually impress upon you that you are wasting your time even occupying the same pitch as them. It is a very British mixture of graft and self-belief. And people really hate that as well.

I don’t believe Alex Ferguson moved to United all those years ago with a specific project in mind. I get the impression that he knew what winning was all about: discipline, organisation and work rate, topped off by a bit of talent if you have time. He added, after a while, pace and the speed of thought an action. But the teams’ success was never a masterplan – I can’t see him cackling and stroking a white cat at any stage of his career. Wenger is different. Everything about Arsenal is changing, or has already changed, dramatically. The new stadium will be the culmination of the club’s complete faith in one man’s vision. He is backed by people who share either the vision as a whole or at least have been brought up with Arsenal’s ever-present commitment to doing things the right way.

Under those circumstances, when we appear to be in a hiatus (one defeat in 52 games is a catastrophe isn’t it?), it is up to us, as supporters, to recall and recognise that vision and share it if we can. Arsene Wenger is unworried by the apparent dip in form. So should we be, and here’s why:

I learned a new word today. It is entelechy. Pronunciation: “En-ter-leck-ee”. This is not a word used for a scouser rigging ups his lights to next doors meter. It means “perfect realisation as opposed to potentiality”. It basically means you have arrived at your goal and both the position you are now in and the process by which you arrived, were flawless.

Basically it’s a word I don’t think one should ever truthfully have any use for. I can find more opportunity, honestly, to use the word defenestration than entelechy. The former is a rather marvellous way of describing the act of throwing someone out of a window. I don’t know about you, but the fact that there is a special word in English specifically for this gives me a nice warm glow of pride in my mother tongue.

Such a word does, however, provoke one to consider the nature of “goals” and their perfect achievement. Arsenal have been accused of trying to achieve something like entelechy - in common parlance, “trying to walk the fucking thing in”. This criticism is only valid on occasions where some slight miscalculation on the part of the current Arsenal side, or the intervention of an opponent, puts paid to one of these perfect moves. It is especially galling because the method chosen in opposition to our own, of late, has been to try and win a free kick anywhere in our half, pair a decent sized centre-forward against Pascal Cygan and nod the thing in from 3 yards – constituting not only the only opposition goal, but also their only actual shot on target. Many of us have gnashed our teeth and smote our palm against our fore’d in deep consternation over this - as if our approach were a foible not a realistic ambition. When it doesn’t work one can basically feel that Arsenals gameplan is something like trying to drive a Formula 1 car across a muddy field. We’re thinking, “There are easier ways to do this, you know, and Arsenal used to be pretty good at them”. 

How quickly we forget the manifold instances when the build-up play that lead to an Arsenal goal in recent seasons was such a thing of beauty that, apart from the ability to time a run into the penalty area to meet the ball, the only other prerequisite for the eventual goal scorer was to have two legs, be able to stand on one of them and be able to gently swing the other in a short pendulr arc. Maddening as it can sometimes be, our method has actually served this club well in challenging for the league title every year since it’s inception and being successful on more than one occasion. It has also meant that we have progressed to the latter stages of most domestic cup competitions with relative ease and won a few of those as well. And with some tweaking to accommodate the multifarious playing styles and personnel of the wider college of European football, it is completely at home in foreign climes as well. That last point is moot, of course, if you talk about Arsenal in isolation. But when you consider that the way we play is more similar to a number of the continental teams we’re playing against in the CL than to the glut of teams we tire out in the Premiership, the method itself has impressive provenance. Wenger himself aspires to the Ajax team of the early 70’s. Passing and movement produced football that was ultimately successful but had the added bonus of being compelling and delightful as well. Neutrals paid good money to watch that team. You don’t become winners by setting out to entertain people (don’t tell Spurs though - they still believe it and long may that continue). But it is a by-product of having that vision thing. Sooner or later your blueprint, if it is right, allows one or two things that are hard to do look very, very easy. They are still actually hard things to do. And fatigue and not having your head right will still upset even the most talented players. And of course, every manager in the world will plot to throw a stick in your spokes, just for the short-term buzz of getting the better of such an imperious outfit.

Nevertheless we have been witnessing the building of an edifice along a grand design. Arsene Wenger has already told us that the crop of youngsters performing such sterling stuff in the Carling Cup are potentially better than the current first team. Ever heard a manager make such a bold prediction before? I haven’t. I’m watching the Airline Stadium being erected on a daily basis. You don’t put cycling proficiency certificates in glass display cabinets, you know. That place will be fit for a sheikh or two as well as the princes waiting to take centre stage. The training facilties are already the envy of every other European team. We hardly buy a new first teamer anymore – you have to be that good (and good value) to get our attention. And all this is being done on a fraction of the budget of other teams (one in particular springs to mind). Let’s stick with the long view and not get to preturbed when the likes of West Brom nick a point every now and then. The word Entelechy may one day have an application in an everyday sentence. And another word in that sentence just might be the proper noun Arsenal.